Posts Tagged 'Pop Culture'

What is Happening to the Films of our Childhood?

Ceara Danaher


Last Friday night, my teammates and I crowded around a hotel television the night before a race, scanning the channels for any show to pique our interest. As we idled past the usual menu of sitcoms and reality shows, a vision of Technicolor glory burst upon us. “The Wizard of Oz!” we cooed. With no further deliberation, a consensus was met.

We eagerly discussed old memories of the movie. It felt like the sudden discovery that, years earlier, we ha all shared a mutual friend. Our reunion was interrupted when our coach’s eight-year-old son walked through the door. “The Wizard of Oz?! I’ve never seen this!”

As Nick settled between us, we exchanged glances. How was it possible that this boy hadn’t experienced one of the staple films of our childhood? Were we so old? Had the movie’s timelessness been lost? Sadly, the movie did not stand up anymore in a technological sense. The Emerald City, we saw to our dismay, was not actually a glittering bastion of green, but little more than a fuzzily painted image on a curved backdrop, mere feet from the actors. Would Nick, ensconced in a youth of Pixar animation, recognize these flaws? We never had.

The Wizard of Oz stood its test. Nick assumed the same slack-jawed position as the rest of us and watched in rapt awe as the witch threw a blaze of fire at the skittish scarecrow.

The Wizard of Oz is not alone in the field of overlooked classic films. As the movies of today grow more advanced, I fear that the films we grew up with are being left behind. Sure, it’s impressive to have the ability to create a lively, tap-dancing penguin on a computer, but what has happened to the good old cartoons of our day? What has happened to drawing, to human handiwork, to adult characters that don’t look like glazed-over, three-dimensional cyborgs?

I am all for the improvement of art through technology. Admittedly, the children’s movies of today are masterpieces of digital animation. But I urge that, in the push forward, we not leave behind the icons of our youth. There is comfort in movies like Peter Pan and The Lion King. There is value in the stories. There is humor in the characters. There are friendships to be forged with these animated beings, and, years later, with the people who worshipped them in the same way that you did. What’s more, when we dismiss the hand-drawn or live-action movies of our past, childhood aspirations are lost. Although kids can dream of becoming animators or actors, it is far more difficult for them to comprehend how to digitally engineer the flipping of little Nemo’s fin. When my childhood friends and I weren’t arguing who sang most like the Little Mermaid (answer: none of us), we imagined being Disney artists when we aged. Computer animators? Not so much.

For generations now, Disney cartoons and The Wizard of Oz have been enchanting children. It worked for our parents, for our siblings, and for us. Why stop at that? The movies of today are well and good— accept them if you like. But don’t forget where we’ve been. As for me, I’ll take old-school movies any day.

A Return fom the “Wild”

Antoine Gara


This weekend, I went to see Sean Penn’s adaptation of the Jon Krakauer book Into the Wild. The book was an extension of an essay Krakauer submitted to Outside Magazine in 1993. The article chronicled the puzzling journey of college grad Chris McCandless as he marched across the United States and into the Alaskan wilderness with few provisions. From its first telling in Outside Magazine to its current movie adaptation, McCandless’s story resonates in deep and varied ways with audiences. The story charms and it offends; it forces a spectrum of judgments about the ambition and the weight of Chris’s odyssey. Chris searched the extremes of his being for meaning and his experiences touches us. But all that has changed.

When I read the book, I was a high school senior who trusted in the act of intellectual pursuit. I liked Chris because he embodied the idealism I believed so strongly in, and I respected the amount of research he had done to that end. As a college senior, his idealism didn’t impress me as much as his kinship with the environment. I was more aware of Chris’s abundant love for the outdoors and his attempt at sustainable living. In these times of globalization, self-reliance is kind of out of style.

Chris was first introduced to America in 1993, and now it’s 2007. Early readers of the book wondered whether it was stupid to go to Alaska without sufficient provisions, and they judged the morality of his abandonment of society. It was a call of the wild, and we didn’t know whether to pick it up on our fancy landline phones. There seemed to be an immense border cutting between Chris in the wild, and us everyday citizens of America. Today, the border seems more fluid.

For better or worse, it is obvious now that Chris made us all more aware of our estrangement from the natural world and showed us a way to live under its rule, at least momentarily. The tragedy of Chris’s story is that if he had survived he could have been an incredible ambassador for us all. Yet his death made him a martyr— an embodiment of the fissure between nature and society.

That is why seeing Chris again made me glad that I am not an absolute intellectual and continue to live an active life. Every once in a while, when I put my books down, I realize how much they enrich what I do. In 2007, it is clear that Chris died because he could not find a way to channel his immense love of nature and his intellectual pursuits in a productive way. The best environmentalists and intellectuals create a kindred relationship between corridors of intellectual discovery and the physical neighboring world. It is a shame Chris is not around to see that this practice is becoming increasingly popular in our modern society.

A Bold Step for the Music Industry

Melissa Marshall


This October, Radiohead released their sprawling new album In Rainbows. However, critical attention was less on the discography and more on the distribution method. The digital deities from London not only manipulated electronic rhythms to produce the most inventive music of our generation, but also turned technology — and the record industry — on its head by making their album available as a download only, all at your own price. That’s right: you name the price and then click “download.”

Whether it’s an odd psychological experiment or admirable philanthropy, I still haven’t decided. But this bold move did more than just give a finger to the corporate middleman, placing the power back into the artist’s, and subsequently, listener’s hands — it has also brought attention to the pretentious and unanswerable debate of what art is, who has the right to define it and who has the right to prescribe its worth.

It is a certainty that their distribution tactics will reverberate in the industry for decades, if not change the face of it completely. Already Saul Williams, Nine Inch Nails and Oasis have slated “download only” releases. And herein lies the beauty of their economic upheaval: maybe college students don’t have the right to place a price on art, but conglomerated record industries certainly don’t either. At least Radiohead has now given their distribution techniques the same individuality that their music reflects.

But on the other side of the proverbial coin, do we sacrifice a bit of our humanity for this individualism? As a gigabyte generation, we are becoming more and more isolated. Look at the birth of the iPod: most of us walk around campus with the omnipresent earbuds shoved into either side of our head, completely oblivious to passing classmates. Where once we would go to a local record store, we now turn towards synthetic cybershops to get our cuts. I yearn for the nostalgia of the High Fidelity-esque hole-in-a-wall dive that smelled like Springsteen and played like the Pixies— the fading posters on the walls symbolizing a time when rock n’roll was still rock n’roll.

Still, we have to keep in mind that not all musicians have the luxury or lifestyle to do “name your own price” releases. Despite all the anarchist idealists out there, tambourine men still need their daily bread. And maybe Radiohead are idealists as well, foolish for thinking that people will pay for something that they can easily get for free. I don’t really know— but I still like to believe in the inherent goodness of mankind. That and affordable music. I can definitely believe in affordable music.

Why “The Departed” Was Indeed the Best Picture

Daniel Roberts








The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences should not allow external forces to influences its decisions, but it does. In 2005 Crash won Best Picture, despite the fact that Brokeback Mountain, Munich and Capote were all better movies with more outstanding performances and thought-provoking plotlines. Crash was just a jumbled soup of race-related events that tricked Academy voters into thinking it was boldly attacking a controversial issue.

Finally, this year, the film that was truly the “best” actually won the statue. No, The Departed did not attempt to make any grand, sweeping political statement, but focused only on keeping viewers enthralled. And yet that’s a lofty enough goal—not all great movies need to do more than that. Scorsese perfected every aspect of filmmaking in this gem. The acting was stellar— I’m convinced that Leonardo DiCaprio is the best actor in Hollywood right now, and I also felt Mark Wahlberg should have snagged Best Supporting Actor. In addition, the movie captured Boston’s collective “mood” like no other film ever has, except maybe for Mystic River. The dialogue was tense and concise, and there was never a dull moment.

Among many others, one particular moment comes to mind as representative of the film’s excellence, and of its narrative complexity. Madolyn (Vera Farmiga) has opened up the envelope that Billy (DiCaprio), now dead, has given her. She pops in the audio CD while Colin (Matt Damon) is in the shower, and we watch her listen to the recording of Colin talking to Frank Costello (Nicholson) and plotting things. Madolyn doesn’t even necessarily know about Frank or recognize his voice, but she’s smart enough to be able to tell that something very bad is going on and that it has major implications about the man she’s soon to marry (but clearly doesn’t love). She doesn’t know quite what to do—she can’t freak out, since she realizes that she’s now in danger. But she knows she must do something. It’s a powerful scene, and one that suggests a popcorn action flick also needs good acting. This one has it, in spades. And this is to say nothing of other nail-biting, heart-wrenching moments like when Martin Sheen’s character gets tossed from a building and Costigan must keep walking and not indulge his grief, or when Farmiga cries at Costigan’s funeral and Colin sees it, realizes there was something going on.

I think a movie’s value should be judged only by the movie itself, not by some outside influence, such as which hot current issue the film purports to deal with. The Departed was breathtaking and magnificent—and forget all that, it was just plain fun—and it was indeed the Best Picture of 2006.

For a counterpoint: Why ‘The Departed’ Was Not the Best Picture

In Defense of Comic Books

Daniel Watson-Jones

The comic book, or “graphic novel” as it’s called in collected form, is a lot like Rodney Dangerfield. It can be rude, crude, and even downright offensive, but in spite of those qualities it demands more respect. Also like the late Mr. Dangerfield, when at their best, comics represent art of the highest quality. Many people still think that comics are limited to the pulp superhero and crime drama stories of the fifties and sixties, when in fact the field has evolved to produce and support material of a quality that’s almost unimaginable to the close-minded snobs who refuse to pay attention.

As with most art forms throughout history, it began crudely and has developed into something much greater than it was.  It’s easy to forget that ballet began as a way to show off prostitutes to the drunken aristocracy during intermissions at the theatre. Now no one in his right mind would argue that ballet cannot be high art.  Jazz, blues and rock music have had their critics, but the artistic merits of each have outlasted them all. The difficulty is often in recognizing good art when it’s being made, instead of years down the road after it has already suffered a period of being maligned. I would argue that comics need recognition now.

Take for instance Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, which ran for 75 issues from the late 1980s to the mid-90s.  It was the only comic to ever win the World Fantasy Award (and likely the only one ever, as the rules were changed to exclude comics shortly after there was an outcry from authors of “real” fantasy fiction) and within the comic field it’s widely considered to be a masterpiece. The ever-shifting story arcs focus on the journey of the eponymous Sandman (the embodiment of dreams themselves) as he grows, changes, and makes decisions that affect the whole world. Seen as individual installments, the Sandman comics are entertainment at worst, and very well-done entertainment at best, but viewed as an entire collection (as Gaiman envisioned them) they become an astounding work of literature, the nature of which hasn’t been seen since the serialized novels of Mark Twain’s era.

This isn’t to say that every comic out there is groundbreaking work.  Just like rock music, impressionist painting, and art-house cinema, ninety percent of the genre is absolute garbage. Still, that top ten percent can be the cause of life changing revelations.  Or, at the very least, a few Dangerfield-esque chuckles.

Why “The Departed” Was Not the Best Picture

Jason Gutierrez








Academy voters saw The Departed as fit to win its top prize this year, despite the fact that they had nominated two films (Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima and Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu’s Babel) that were more ambitious, better-acted, better-directed and more meaningful than The Departed ever hoped to be. This is emblematic of a growing problem with the Academy Awards. The easy choice wins. The Academy rarely nominates and never selects as Best Picture those films that push the medium of film into uncomfortable, confusing, or innovative areas. It explains the horrifying absence of Todd Field’s Little Children, Paul Greengrass’ United 93, and David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE.

There is something wrong with the Academy Awards. I know that it’s almost May and the Academy Awards happened two months ago, but the recent horde of releases that have “Nominated: Best Picture” emblazoned on their covers has made me think about these awards we call Oscars.

It got to me for several reasons, my belief that it wasn’t actually the best picture being paramount among them. The ending of the film, specifically, is what threw the entire film off. I don’t have a problem with Leonardo DiCaprio getting killed, or really any of the violence that takes over the last third of the picture. What bothers me is the way that it was done. The introduction of a second rat in the police department at the end felt like a deus ex machina.

I have been told by a friend whose film opinion I have a great deal of respect for that I’m not looking at the end of the film correctly. It’s a tragedy, or so he says. I simply can’t buy into that. In order for it to feel like a tragedy you have to care, at least a little, for the characters that meet their downfall by the time the curtains close. But Scorsese, for whatever reason, prefers to remain cold, with his camera keeping a perplexing distance from the characters. We don’t move in close to feel the paranoia and loss of identity that comes with being a rat in a crime organization, or a mole in the police department. So, when these characters reach their demise, the audience doesn’t have a single iota of feeling for them, because we weren’t given the opportunity to connect. So, when the deaths came, I found myself asking, “So what?” I wanted to mourn for these characters, not shrug my shoulders as I left the theater. The film had potential (not to mention some good qualities) but Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan missed the point of the original film Infernal Affairs; dying is easy, it’s living with yourself after you’ve done a horrible thing that is hard.

The Academy has a unique opportunity to promote pictures that run against the grain of typical Hollywood studio output. For every picture like United 93 (the picture that, truly, was the best picture made last year) that is made, there are five movies starring Nicolas Cage (and I am not even making that up, there will be five movies that have Nicolas Cage in them released in 2007). Yet the help of the Academy in gaining exposure is invaluable to a small picture. American Beauty (winner of Best Picture in 2000), for example, saw its profits flat line when its nomination was announced, only to make nearly sixty million dollars in the month and a half before the ceremony.

The problem is twofold: on the one hand the Academy rewards track records, stars, and major releases before it honors unknown actors, independent features, and controversial material. This leads to the second problem, which is that the major studios then take the money and prestige that comes as a result of these wins and pump it back into producing the disposable, uninteresting, shitty pictures that fill up the Cineplex during the summer.

Am I advocating the awarding of Best Picture to only independent films? No. What I am advocating is that the Academy actually give the award to the best picture in a given year, not what is easy to give awards to because of its star, director, or production company. The problem with a B-picture like The Departed winning is that it sets the already pretty low bar of Best Picture (Chicago? The bar doesn’t get a whole lot lower than that) even lower. When they recognize a picture that appeals to the broadest possible audience, they aren’t promoting good filmmaking, but are encouraging a studio system that stifles creativity and values money above innovation.

For a counterpoint: Why ‘The Departed’ Was Indeed the Best Picture